Baroness Neville-Rolfe: Government must engage business and the consumer to improve recycling rates

Posted On: 
11th July 2017

Former Government minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe writes ahead of her parliamentary question in the House of Lords on: Guidance to local authorities clarifying what can be recycled.

"Waste is a multi-billion pound industry and we should find a way of engaging the consumer - and business - to improve things radically now" - Baroness Neville-Rolfe

The planet’s resources are finite and recycling makes a lot of sense environmentally and economically. Unfortunately, our current system is confusing for the consumer and is giving a poor return on the huge investment of recent years. 

Matters are run by local authorities and there seem to be almost as many systems of recycling as there are authorities. In Wiltshire we have a bin for plastic bottles and cardboard, a box for paper, tins and bottles and a waste bin. In London we have a small bin for food waste, a recycling bin which takes everything from plastic bottles, cartons and yoghurt pots to bottles, tins and card; and a waste bin for the rest. There are many other variations. Curiously what cannot be recycled varies enormously also by area.

All this reduces the efficiency of the businesses involved. They are also limited by the local authority straight jacket and have little incentive to innovate for the consumer.

Recycling can be bewildering in Britain. This is especially true if you live in two places or move house. This is unpopular and ineffective. So I was glad to find that the Government through WRAP has recently produced some rather complicated guidelines, including advice on what wrecks recycling like black plastic & crisp packets 

They are also trying to reduce variation to 3 different systems.

But all this is voluntary and directed at Councils not consumers, where all systems should concentrate if they are to be effective. It allows Councils to continue to diverge. They have a legacy of investment to protect and some are committed to contracts which have up to 8 years to run. 

Could we get in to a better place given that we will soon cease to be limited by EU rules? There is a lot of regulation on recycling and packaging. It is much consulted on, slow and despite the good intentions of ministers, distinctly sub-optimal. The Great Repeal Bill will put all these rules on our statue book.

We should not wait for Brexit. We should be ambitious.

Waste is a multi-billion pound industry and we should find a way of engaging the consumer - and business - to improve things radically now.

Firstly, we should make the rules simple and uniform. We should take a national view on what it is worth recycling and what is not, allowing for cross contamination, value etc, and indeed how much household separation and multiple bins make sense. Then we should issue guidance to local authorities, allowing for transition while existing contracts run their course.

Secondly, we should launch a major information drive working with those who understand consumers. We should advertise the new rules on social and other media and work with our industries and our retailers so they can help inform the consumer and adapt production of packaging and use of recycled materials.


Baroness Neville-Rolfe DBE is a Conservative peer, former Minister of State at BEIS and former main Board director of Tesco.